Absence truly does make the heart grow fonder. Being sequestered in West London far away from the city centre certainly makes you appreciate past Soho times. True, you do have more space here in the suburbs to enact the seven metre swerve necessary to socially distance yourself from approaching fellow humans. Strange, one muses, that only a few weeks ago what might have seriously offended now just elicits a watery smile of acknowledgement.
My last visit to Soho was a flying one for an emergency dental appointment near Carnaby Street on the morning before lockdown… even then the streets were deserted and the silence pretty much awe-inspiring. Mid-tooth inspection the dentist suddenly picked up the sound of actual birdsong. A brief pause of appreciation from the room followed – personally I could only make out a mash-up of building site and dental drills – but you really don’t want to spoil the moment.
Dentist’s appointments for me always bring the film Marathon Man unwillingly to mind. Least said soonest mended I reckon. Not that that worked very well for Dustin Hoffman. Haven’t seen it? Now’s the time, but you may never get your teeth fixed again.
Given that my phone has begun clocking me up with more hours of screen time than I’m actually awake, I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve accidentally scrolled myself via a kind of Alice in Wonderland tumble into a movie app.
After all, the media is awash with comparisons to apocalyptic movie scenarios – deserted streets caused by vanishing populations abound in the cinema – and for Londoners 28 Days Later seems to be the dystopian vista of choice. But then the iconic opening scene was inspired by John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids; Wyndham was himself a Central London resident for many years (Bloomsbury not Soho, but we’ll allow him that because he was a sci-fi visionary) so his original evocation of near-silent streets was particularly resonant.
Our current situation is unprecedented though, so maybe many of our reference points will come from cinematic sources. In the case of Soho and Central London the suspended animation of a freeze frame, waiting for the moment the action can begin again.
In the meantime, stay safe Soho, along with the rest of our capital and the stunningly brave NHS, supply, transport and care workers.
Words by Gillian Smith
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